Guest Author - Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, M.D, F.A.A.P
Traveling with kids can be a very enriching experience for the entire family. In addition to recreation and relaxation, vacations can be wonderful learning opportunities for kids of all ages. At the same time, traveling with kids has a few special issues to consider before you go and on the road to keep the vacation safe and healthy for all.
Before you go, do some research to know where you’ll go or who you’ll call for emergencies or sickness while away from home. Major hotels can assist you with this but you may find it useful to have the number of your local embassy if traveling internationally as well as the nearest major hospital and children’s hospital. To avoid panic in a crunch, program these important numbers into your cell phone or PDA.
For all travel, double check the security alerts in your country and final destination. The crowds and amount of security personal can be overwhelming for kids. Even the particulars of the security check can be daunting to a small child. Give your kids a sense of how the security process will work from start to finish, including putting their favorite objects on the security belt and walking through the x-ray threshold. For older kids, offer a quick reminder about the inappropriateness of joking about bombs or weapons.
Before you leave home, organize your family’s essential medical history in an easy to find document: recent weights and heights, immunization records, medication lists (prescription and nonprescription, doses and interval), adverse reactions and allergies to medications and latex, and dates of major operations and illnesses. These are the items a doctor will need to care for a member of your family, and the details we all find difficult to recall quickly under stress.
Finally, take a moment before you leave home to consider the logistics of the travel day and your first full day of vacation. On the travel day, you’ll want to have distraction items and snacks with you. Kids can get antsy with long travel days and tuning out with music, a movie, a book or even a journal to write provide sanity for you all and make the time pass more easily.
Once you arrive at your final destination, give everyone some time to unwind. If possible, have that first day be a bit less structured especially if there is a time change. For younger kids, keeping them to a rough outline of their typical eating, sleeping and napping routines will help them acclimate quicker.
Finally, it can be tempting to just go with the flow and throw caution to the wind while traveling. It is fairly common at resort areas to see kids riding bikes without helmets or siblings swimming in a pool without an adult nearby. Try to follow the same basic safety rules you follow at home for outside activities like playgrounds, pools, swimming, rollerblading, skiing, biking and boating, to name a few. Otherwise, you may find yourself exploring more of the local emergency room than the sites.
One last tip for the road, remember to have fun!